Eastside Culture Crawl

Studio 101

Today I got to help some Grade 6 & 7 students as they painted light and shadow under the direction of artist Bernadine Fox. In fact, all of Williams Clark studios was hopping this afternoon, as more than 50 students from Queen Alexandra school in East Vancouver learned arts skills from painting to printing-making to calligraphy to textile art, all free and all thanks to a program called Studio 101.

The Eastside Culture Crawl underlines the relationship between a thriving artist population and the diverse community of East Vancouver. The Crawl strives to give back to the community too, and Studio 101 is one way this happens. Studio 101 began four years ago, under the direction of Richard Tetrault,  Katherine Youngs and Mira Malatestinic, who originally came up with the idea. They wanted to find a way to inspire kids about art and the artists in their own community.  This program first goes into the school and prepares the students for the experience they will have in an artists studio .  They are given Artist Trading Cards that describe the artist's creative process and biography.  Then students from one school within the Culture Crawl boundaries spend an afternoon at the studios of six or seven different artists in a single building in the Crawl, where they will participate in an art project created by the artists. They finish with a unique piece of artwork to take home. Finally, each of the artists submits an artwork to the school, the students view the artworks and then vote on which one they would like to hang in the school. The piece of art selected then becomes part of the school's collection and is paid for by the program.

Division 4 of Seymour School in my studio (thanks to Andrea Wilks for the photo)

Studio 101 benefits the students, since they get to see art-making going on in their own community as well as having a chance to do something completely different with their artist/teachers. The teachers also seem to enjoy the opportunity to explore the studios and meet the artists. And the school benefit from having an artwork for their permanent collection. The artists benefit from a chance to work with children, which is always energizing, and they receive a small stipend for the work, as well as payment for their art if it's selected.  The Culture Crawl fundraises to provide the financial backing for Studio 101.

Presenting my painting with Richard Tetrault

Last year, Studio 101 took place at my building, The Mergatroid, and I was one of the lucky artists who taught a class. The kids walked the five blocks from Admiral Seymour School, and then took part in making books, clay works, paintings and in my studio, crazy multi-media works not unlike my own! I was also privileged enough to be selected as the artist whose artwork went to the school. I can tell you, it's the highlight of an artist's life when you stand in front of the end of year assembly and get to hear a whole school oooh and aaah over your painting. My painting, Go Canada Go, is now hanging in the school hall and I hope it inspires one or two kids to reach for the brightest colours in their paintbox.

Go Canada Go! (Can you find the hidden Canada maps?)

How to buy art on the Crawl

Seems easy enough, right? You see a painting you like, so you buy it and take it home. And it is easy for some people, but for others buying art is a bit of a mystery. So to demystify the process, here’s some practical advice on how to buy the art you’ll treasure for years.


The hardest part is choosing the right artwork. The Eastside Culture Crawl has an amazing range of artwork, from realism to abstraction, in various media, and priced from $10 to $10,000.  Even though the Crawl is not juried, in general the artwork is of good quality because the artist has a studio and a professional commitment to their art. However, as in all large events there are different levels of art, and you have to use your own judgement.

Choosing the right painting is a lot like falling in love. Really. You walk into a studio and see this painting and Blam, love hits you. If you’re a little indecisive, like me, you may wander around the studio and examine every other painting, but your first love keeps calling to you. In my own studio experience, although people often like two or three paintings, it’s always the first one that they like that is the right one.

Again, I consulted with my friend Liz Malinka, who is a Crawl regular with an amazing art collection.  What I really like about her art collection is its diversity, some of the paintings come from the best galleries in town, but others are from new artists she discovered on the Crawl. She says there is nothing as satisfying as the joy of the artist who is selling their first painting.  Liz also advises, “If you love a piece buy it!! If you have to think twice, it's probably not for you. I always ask myself, if I walked away from a piece and turned around and someone else bought it, would I be heartbroken? If the answer is yes, then I buy it immediately!”

I could write a whole blog post on why people buy art, but I’ll just say one thing:  if you really like a piece of art, it will bring you a lot of pleasure. Nobody ever regretted buying a special artwork.

The Price is Right

Obviously, price is important. If you don’t buy art regularly, you may wonder if you’re getting value for your money. Fortunately, the Crawl offers you a perfect opportunity to shop around and compare prices. It should only take a few studios to give you an idea of the price range of paintings you like. Art by established artists will be more expensive than someone right out of art school.  Art is generally priced by size, but occasionally artists price by the age of the work, with newer work being more expensive. Some artists even price based on how pleased they are with the work!

If you really like a painting in the first studio you visit, you can ask if the artist will put the painting on hold for you (some do and some don’t). Or there is something called the right of first refusal, so if someone else wants the painting, the artist will call you first and you have to decide right away. However, the Crawl is a crucial time for artists to make sales, so please be respectful about placing holds.

Since the Crawl is an informal situation, you may wonder if you should bargain for a lower price. Here are the facts about pricing. If an artist is represented by galleries, the price will be firm, since if the artist undersells the gallery he or she runs the risk of getting dropped. In fact, some galleries get a commission on paintings that are sold on the Crawl since they promote the artist year round, so the artist is not even keeping the full price.  It may be possible to negotiate a better deal if you pay cash. Most painters do not take credit cards, they usually take cheques or PayPal, so bring your chequebook. Most clay or textile artists do take credit cards, since they are used to working craft fairs.

If you are buying multiple pieces, you may be able to get a discount. If you return year after year to make purchases from the same artist or refer your friends, you may get a discount.  Also, if you can tell that a work is older, perhaps from a previous series, the artist may be more inclined to give you a discount.  You can certainly make a polite inquiry about discounts, but do keep in mind that most artists are not getting rich once you add up the costs of studios, materials and time spent.

Instead of discounts, you may be able to negotiate other benefits: staggered payments, delivery of the work if you do not have a car, or even help in deciding where to place the work in your home.  Some artists may allow you to try a few paintings in your home, to see how they work before you purchase one.

Not just paintings

Most of this advice has been around painting, which is the area I know best. However, I realize that there are other areas, like clay, sculpture, textiles and woodworking, which are slightly different.

My observation around clay is that it is already so reasonably priced and practical, that buying it is an easy decision. I have pottery from four different artists here in the Mergatroid Building and I delight in using it all, enjoying the handmade feel of a teacup or the beauty of a glazed bowl. They make fabulous gifts as well, so I do a lot of my Christmas shopping right outside my studio door.

As for textiles and sculpture, I think they are similar to artwork.  Take the time to ask about the process, what raw materials are used, and all the stages in creating the work. Once you realize the effort that goes into creating the work, I think you’ll find the prices are very reasonable. 

Boomerang chair by Dexel Crafted
In my building we have a number of furniture makers. Buying furniture from them can be as easy as seeing something you like in their studio and then purchasing it, since much of the furniture you see on the Crawl is for sale. Most woodworkers have books of the custom work they have created.  I spoke to Curt Dexel of Dexel Crafted in my building and he tells me that much of his work is custom, which begins with a discussion with the client about their needs. If you commission a piece of furniture, you have the luxury of many options around materials, size and details.  Just keep in mind that although the prices will be higher than Ikea, the quality is much higher.

Don't forget

It sounds funny, but it’s almost certain that once you’ve seen a lot of studios, you will get them confused. So take notes, take business cards and take photos (ask first though!) so that if you want to follow up afterwards, you can.

Most artists are happy to open their studios to you after the Crawl, if you want to come back and see the artwork again or even if you missed their studio the first time around. However studios are a working space, so they are cleaned up ferociously before the Crawl but they will normally be a lot messier and less gallery-like. And you will have to make an appointment first, since studios are only open for these three days. If there is an artist you particularly liked, but you missed out on a favourite piece, try contacting them in a few months time when they will have new work. And be sure to get on the mailing lists of the artists you like.

There is lots of talk around supporting the local economy, and buying directly from artists is an excellent way to do that. As you sit back in your hand-crafted wood chair, sipping coffee from a specially-chosen clay mug and admiring your challenging new painting, you are a true supporter of the arts!

How to Crawl

The Eastside Culture Crawl has been a huge part of my life for the last seven years, with my studio welcoming hundreds of visitors in that time.

My neat studio, a rare occurrence

However there are still a lot of people who are Crawl virgins, or who would like advice on getting more out of their Crawl experience, so here’s some advice. Of course, you may wonder how someone who sits in her studio during the Crawl can even give advice on how to tour…so I have also gotten help from an expert. Liz Malinka has been doing the Crawl for over ten years now, she is both an art lover and an art collector. In fact, she and her husband, Frank, both love the Crawl so much that they became financial supporters of the event.

I would say that there are many ways to do the Crawl, but here are the two ends of the scale:


Liz, who is divinely organized, recommends doing your homework. She goes through the entire Crawl website to check out the artist’s images, then notes the artists whose work looks intriguing to her and writes down the names and exact addresses of the ones she wants to visit. You'd be surprised how many people come in searching for an artist they saw on the website or mentioned in the newspaper, but they don't know exactly who or where that artist is. With over 300 artists, it's difficult to figure out who that might be.You may be interested in one particular area, like furniture makers, and the Crawl website allows you to search that. The Crawl website also lets you search by building or by artists.

You can plan logistically if there are a number of places you want to visit, starting at one end of the Crawl territory and moving to the other. You may want to get your hands on a Crawl brochure, with its handy map, which should be available at any artist's studio you visit. But with 65 different locations, you may want to prioritize the places you want to visit, choosing the area with the biggest cluster. I’m not sure if anyone has ever visited all the artists during a Crawl, but it would definitely take the whole weekend to do more than a studio fly-by. That said, many people do the Crawl over two or three days, because too many studios in too little time can fry your brain.


The other end of the exploration scale is one method I’ve seen many times in my own studio.  Many visitors merely choose a place, like a large building or a little neighbourhood with a few studios and start exploring. They meander through every studio and stop to admire and chat with the artists. They delight in the work or the atmosphere, and have an easy-going attitude.  It’s the Crawl as an experience, and you can explore this way for as much or as little time as you have. I’ve actually had visitors who started on the Crawl about an hour before it ended, but they get an hour of Culture Crawl in anyway. When you explore organically, I think you’re more likely to find things that surprise and possibly educate you in some way.

And unfortunately for the organized Crawlers, many artists are so disorganized that they won't appear on the website or map listing, they simply pop up and wait to be discovered by accident. The Crawl is full of lovely surprises.

General tips for the Crawl

Liz has some specific advice on what to wear to the Crawl: “Dress for the event, no high heels since you'll be climbing a lot of stairs and covering a lot of ground. I find that scarves are a must (since 1000 Parker can be cold) and they are a quick removal item when you do warm up!”  My own observation is that there are a lot of stylish people who do the Crawl, and I enjoy the fashion show through my studio.  People who like art, like aesthetics of all kinds.

Parking can also be an issue at busy times, so getting there early helps. Most areas of the Crawl are either industrial or residential, and neither are loaded with parking. Although I don’t know any secret parking spots, I would caution you to carefully read all the signs. My former studio was across from a huge No Parking sign on a fence which was ignored every year, since people assumed they were closed on weekends. When the trucks arrived at the lot, they had no choice but to call the tow truck. Lots of people do bike to the Crawl, and if you buy something most artists will hold it for you to pick up later. On sunny days the streets around the Crawl are packed with pedestrians, like a stylish country village.

What about those crowds? Here’s the scoop on the different times to Crawl. The Crawl is open from 5 to 10pm on Friday, and Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 6.  Friday nights have a party atmosphere, in my building the artists are more dressed up and serve food, not dinner of course, but nibbles. I think most studios have food on Friday.  Serious art buyers, like Liz, will be out on Friday in order to see the work first and get first dibs. More families come out on Saturday and Sunday, after soccer or music lessons, and the Crawl is a great family experience. Kids love to explore, and artists are usually pleased to talk to budding artistes. For younger kids, I would recommend keeping it short since it can be tiring to trudge through large warehouse spaces or through rain-soaked neighbourhoods. You can always do more the next year. Teenagers who love art can probably out-Crawl their parents.  
If you don’t like crowds, I would recommend checking out some smaller buildings or individual studios. If it rains hard, most people prefer to stay dry by staying inside and exploring bigger buildings like 1000 Parker or The Mergatroid (my building), so they can be crowded. If it snows, I can guarantee there will be no crowd at all!  One more insiders tip, I’ve often found that late Sunday afternoon is the slowest time on the Crawl, so if you go between 3:00 and 6:00pm on Sunday, you may have studios all to yourself.

Michelle Sirois-Silver in her studio

Here's some lovely advice from Liz, “Lastly, have fun, talk to the artists! It will add to the whole experience if you are able to connect with them and get to know a little bit about them. Who knows, perhaps friendships will develop, it's happened to me many times! “

Very true! Enjoy the Crawl and stay tuned for the next blog topic, How to buy art at the Crawl.

Michelle Sirois-Silver's studio

An organized rainbow!
When I was a child, I used to go to the home of a graphic designer who had her studio in the basement. I loved to wander downstairs and look at her papers, her pristine white drawing table and best of all her markers, perfectly lined up in the full rainbow of colours. Seeing ALL the colours in perfect order gives me an enormous thrill to this day. And that is why I love going into the studio of textile artist, Michelle Sirois-Silver.

These fabric stacks are my favourite things in her studio,
 the textile equivalent of a paintbox
I first met Michelle when she moved into the shared studio across the hall from my studio, and then followed her into her studio in the basement of her home, and then I helped her link up with her current studio. I've been wanting to take photographs of Michelle's studio ever since I saw her first studio, and now with the Culture Crawl on the horizon, I can feature this lovely spot and anyone can visit it as well.

So here are some photos of Michelle's studio, as well as her answers to my little studio Q & A.

Michelle, hard at work.

What is your favourite part of the studio?
My favorite part of the studio is where ever I am at the moment I am creating something. 
The old and the new.

Can you tell me about your studio routine?
I'm in the studio everyday 10-6pm.  I like to begin the day by organizing and putting away any new items and materials that I have brought with me that morning.  I set up my computer, cup of coffee in hand and begin work.  Generally, I reserve activities like magazine and grant writing, marketing, and updating my website for home.  I may pick up my rug hooking where I left off the following day, do some fabric dyeing, or create samples for a new work.  I take photographs of my work in different stages and I'll use these images as a record of the process or for promotional purposes.  While I'm working I listen to CBC radio, music or audio books.  I try to schedule studio visits for the afternoon.  The day concludes with about fifteen minutes of clean up which includes a daily vacuum to keep the dust and fabric pieces under control.  

A little sampler which I found quite beautiful.

What is one thing that really inspires your creativity?
There are three things that inspire my creativity:  I love narrative and the art of story telling and I try to bring this sensibility to my practice.   Visually I'm drawn to images that inspire a sense of intimacy.  When I'm looking at something I shut out everything else around it and view that one thing in utter isolation.  When I do this the image alters its form and it becomes a range of colour, a dynamic value contrast, or a pattern.  Its new potential is inspiring. And talking with fellow artists about their work, inspirations, and processes.    

Here is textile piece of Michelle's that I own and love. You can see more of her work at:

And if you would like to visit Michelle's gorgeous studio in person, come and visit her on the Eastside Culture Crawl on November 18, 19 and 20, 2011.

This post is the kick off to a series of posts I will be writing on the Crawl, as we head up to the big event.

Welcome to my studio

I love touring studios and one of my great regrets about participating in the Culture Crawl is that I never get check out other people's studios.  So for all the other artists stuck in their studios, and for my friends and clients in other cities, here is what my studio will be looking like this weekend.

Just come on in...my name is on the door, a first for me!

Small works, a bit of sculpture and my favourite art books.

Some shelf vignettes.

The back wall, with paintings to leaf through.

The west wall.

New paintings I just finished in the past two weeks.  Of course, I work better under pressure, but I am very pleased with them.  After working really hard for different shows in the past year, I vowed that I wouldn't create any more works that I wasn't completely happy with no matter what the consequences.

A combo.  I really like this way of displaying the work.  You could try it using whatever paintings you already have, it's a chance to curate your own walls.  The paintings bounce off each other and cause you to notice what they have in common or their differences.

And food... the only thing I can't share with you on the internet!

group think

Have you ever been in a situation where a group of people are feeling the same emotion at the same time?  It could be the tense crowd at tight hockey playoff game.  Or the moist-eyed audience at a film festival.  Or you could be one of the artists getting ready for the Eastside Culture Crawl, Vancouver's biggest open studio event.  Usually my studio building of fifty-odd (or merely peculiar) artists is relatively calm.  Some artists are there everyday, they treat their art as a regular nine-to-five job, and work accordingly. Most of the furniture makers and some ceramic artists fall into this category.  Others are deadline driven, they appear shortly before a show and whip up tons of work in a frenzy.  Most of the painters fall into this category.  The Culture Crawl means everyone has a deadline at once, and our "to do list" includes scrubbing and purging the studio as well as creating some (hopefully) excellent artwork.

In these last ten days before the Crawl, things are getting hectic.  Yesterday my studio echoed with noises of neighbouring construction, paint splashing, deep cleaning, music and swearing (not mine, some unknown workermen!)  Behind every door was action, as well as a general feeling of excitement and anticipation. Closer to the event, that excitement may turn into stress, as a flurry of last minute tasks mounts.

My name was just installed both on my new pink door, and outside the building for the first time. I am a bit nervous opening up my new solo studio for the first time, but I'm also proud of the work I've put into it.  I have the freedom to hang my work as I want, to play my favourite Canadian indie music, and to create a fun energy in the room.

Opening up your studio for the Crawl is like hosting a party, you invite people into your home and hope that they will enjoy it.  Your studio and your artwork reflect who you are and invite judgement.  I admit it's painful when people take one look at my studio and leave, but many more people are generous with their interest and comments about the artwork, which makes the Crawl quite rewarding.  Artists usually work in solitary splendour, but occassionally we throw open the doors, and get to hear what people think. When I get back to painting, all the feedback reverberates in my head.